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Silent Movies
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I used to think that silent movies were all pretty bad. With maturity, I realized it was just another case of Sturgeon's Law; most of them are bad, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some really good ones out there, also.

Friday, I got together with fabrisse to watch a few silents. Of the three features we saw, one was interesting but not actually good, one was OK, and one seriously rocked. In ascending order:

The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Made by L. Frank Baum's film company. I had seen this before, but not in about a decade. While I had forgotten many of the details, I had the pretty much the same reaction overall: some interesting special effects and costumes, but the acting and story were just execrable.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (starring Lon Chaney Sr.). Pretty good. Lon's makeup was, of course, excellent, and he also did a nice acting job (within the limited constraints of the role). Other actors also did a good job. Intriguing hat designs, though I'd have to check with cvirtue to find out if they were remotely authentic.

The Gaucho (starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.). Fairbanks is responsible for most of the great silent movies, and this is one of them. His exuberance and joy are infectious. He has an ability that I've only seen Gene Kelly duplicate, of pulling off the most amazing physical maneuvers as if they were as easy as walking. His supporting cast in this one is quite good generally, but his leading lady (Lupe Velez) is excellent. The two of them have the kind of fiery, passionate love that often involves throwing things at each other :-) The story is about halfway between Robin Hood and Zorro; nothing terribly original, but executed with panache. It kind of reminded me of Pirates of the Carribean in that way -- the story is powered by sheer enthusiasm for the genre. Highly recommended.

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I can't actually watch a silent film and appreciate it in the context of entertainment. For me they are all study guides for building a repertoire of movements and expressions for Commedia dell'Arte.

There is some brilliant stuff in the silent pictures. I like the work of facial work of Lon Chaney Sr. For Comedy, I like the work of Charlie Chase.

Huh. Have you seen any Fairbanks Sr.? I find it hard to fathom not enjoying those.

That said, fabrisse was commenting (during Hunchback) "that's a great Commedia Lazzo". [A (poor and obviously hungry) messenger brings information to a noble who has a plate of food set out. The noble offers him some, but is so excited about the message that he keeps interrupting the poor messenger before he can actually take a bite (knocking the food out of his hand with an expansive gesture). By the third time (Law of Three!) that this happens, the messenger has wised up and yanks the food out of the way so he can retain it and eat :-) ]

I had the opposite problem -- my father was/is a conniseur of silent films, so I only saw the best and assumed they were all great...

Patchwork I did see, but since I'd memorized the book, I was mostly upset at how they changed the story.

Wow, I didn't know you were an Oz fan. Patchwork Girl is one of my favorites (both the eponymous book and the character). This may imply more stuff that must be loaned you (after we get through the high points of Alan Moore :-)

I don't remember offhand if the book actually came first in this case or not. I know that at least some of the books were in fact based on (financially unsuccessful) movies and plays that Baum had done, and not the other way around.

The "young photogenic lovers" subplot was annoying (especially since they weren't all that well photographed). On the other hand, my enjoyment of that subplot was greatly heightened by fabrisse's speculation about just why the girl wanted to bring the seven-inch-tall statue of her boyfriend around with her. Especially when, later in the film, there's a near-riot of Emerald City women who all seem to want the "magic dildo" :-)

more stuff that must be loaned you

(potential Alex overlap, though I *did* just plow through _Supreme: Story of the Year_ and have rather a lot of Moore on my bookshelf...I haven't borrowed anything from you yet)

Oz fan

My dad collected all the Oz books -- well, ok, we're missing a few by Jno and some of the later writers -- before I was born, and so my sister and I spent many, many hours reading the old hardcovers growing up. I (un?)fortunately remember little of the actual Patchwork movie, just my reaciton to it at the time.

potential Alex overlap

D'oh! Right you are.

There's a relatively recent Oz book called _Paradox in Oz_ which I highly recommend. Loanable on request.

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